- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 21, 2002

"I've known Ted since 1936, and everything is a production. I guess that's the way it's going to end up."
Bobby Doerr
Bobby Doerr played with baseball legend Ted Williams for 10 seasons and surely knows whereof he speaks. Williams died on July 5, but his death wasn't the end of things but the opening of a new act. It concerns the fate of his body.
Within hours of his death in Florida, Williams' son, John Henry, shipped the body of baseball's last .400 hitter to the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Arizona. Alcor is in the business of cryonics, which involves, and here I quote from Alcor's Web site, "the rapid cooling of a [dead] person's body, usually in liquid nitrogen, in order to preserve the DNA and tissue cells."
Cryonics is banking on "future advancements in science and technology" that will enable the repair of diseases "like cancer, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's or the effects of aging." It contemplates "restoring the individual back to life."
Now, whatever you may think of cryonics, John Henry Williams can't be condemned for sending his father's body to Alcor if that truly is what the man wanted. But there is a dispute about Williams' wishes in this matter. His oldest daughter, Barbara Ferrell, says he wanted to be cremated. There is a will in which Mr. Williams opted for cremation, but his estate says he also advised though not in writing that he really wanted the "life extension" treatment. A court will decide.
Barbara Ferrell accuses her half-brother of not simply acting against their father's (true) wishes, but also wanting to make money off his body. She says John Henry Williams intends to sell their father's DNA meaning some of his cells. She hints that John Henry wants to offer the cells for cloning: Thus, a Ted Williams cell would be fused with an egg cell without its nuclear DNA.
Doctors would grow embryos and ultimately give birth to little Williamses splinters off the old bat, you might say. Preserving those precious cells would be key to such a project, hence the need for Alcor.
To judge by its public statements, however, Alcor doesn't freeze people so their body parts can be sold. Its purpose, as a spokesman reiterated, "is to preserve legally dead people until such time as medical science can revive them."
John Henry may be confused about what Alcor does. Or he may be quite aware of what Alcor does and indeed seeks his father's revival.
Whatever, it isn't so absurd to think Ted Williams himself might have wanted to be cloned or revived (or both) and so advised John Henry and his lawyer.
It is an understatement to say Williams thought highly of himself. At age 20, the Boston Red Sox rookie said, "All I want out of life is that when I walk down the street, folks will say, 'There goes the greatest hitter that ever lived.'"
People still say that because, arguably, he was. Williams might have so highly regarded his baseball achievement he might have been so in love with himself as to believe he should be cloned, even that he should live again.
Ted Williams described himself as an atheist, a fact of possible relevance. Not every atheist would approve of cryonics, but it is hard to imagine an adherent of the great religions of the West embracing cryonics and the overcoming of death it envisions. "To die is gain," wrote the Apostle Paul, contemplating heaven.
For an atheist, however, to die is not to gain. And because it is not, and because this world is all there is, an atheist may find the cryonic option appealing, notwithstanding the solid nerve damage from freezing that is so severe as to militate, in the view of most researchers, 100 percent against revival.
The drama playing out over Ted Williams' body is a reminder of just how weirdly diverse America is, for it so happens that cryonics facilities are found only in the United States. Naturally, the first one opened in the 1960s.
Cryonics, alas, is part of the brave new world that is fast breaking upon us. Some artist somewhere ought to capture it, much as the Flemish master Pieter Bruegel did the biblical story of the Tower of Babel. As in that painting, this one would show man trying to make a name for himself, grasping for immortality. There would be cloners at work and freezers being filled with persons believing that the last enemy, death, can be destroyed.
What we don't know quite yet is whether Ted Williams should be depicted in one of those freezers.

Terry Eastland is publisher of the Weekly Standard.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide